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Showing posts from February, 2016

The rapture. Yes, there is one.

Happens when Jesus returns. And not before.Rapture /ˈræp.tʃər/ n. At Christ’s return, when his living and resurrected followers are taken up, and meet him in the air.2.v. To be taken up to meet Christ in the air.There are a number of Christians who don’t believe in the rapture. In part because the End Times scenario they hold to, doesn’t include any rapture. The End of Days idea, fr’instance: The world ends, or we otherwise die, and we go straight to heaven. Or not. No uncomfortable, material resurrection or millennium; just bliss and ease and comfort. It’s sort of a rapture: When we die, hallelujah by and by, we “fly away”—to heaven. That’s how we meet Jesus in the air.And there are a number of Christians who do believe in the rapture. Myself included. Nope, we don’t all agree about what it’ll look like. In fact a segment of Christendom, who call themselves “premillennial dispensationalists” (and I call Darbyists), imagine it’ll be secret: Nobody sees Jesus come and get us. One day a…

Jesus’s easy victory over the devil.

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Mark 1.12-13, Matthew 4.1-11, Luke 4.1-13.Mark 1.12-13 KWL12 Right afterward, the Spirit threw Jesus into the wilderness.13Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, getting tested by Satan.He was with the beasts. Angels were serving him.That’s the extra-short version of Jesus’s “temptations,” as they tend to be called: Peirádzo/“test” is often meant in a tempting sense, ’cause part of the test is how badly we want what’s offered. But is it in Jesus’s divine nature to go about getting these things the wrong way? Nah. He’s never gonna put himself above his Father’s will. So let’s not treat these tests like they really made Jesus doubt his commitment to the Father. Any devout Christian can easily resist such temptations.The Mark version doesn’t have a lot of details: Just Jesus and the devil, out in the middle of nowhere. Didn’t have to be way out in the middle of nowhere; in fact it’d be a stronger test of will if Jesus was just within sight of civilization. (As was the case in the Judean de…

Why leave your church?

Sometimes for good reasons. Sometimes bad. Up to you to decide.As I’ve said previously, at some point Christians have to switch churches. Sometimes for good reasons; sometimes not.GOOD REASONSBAD REASONSDEBATABLE REASONSGod instructs you to go elsewhere.They kicked you out.Church leaders are untrustworthy. Sinning, abusive, fruitless, jerk-like, and unrepentant; or just not doing their jobs.Ditto church members—and the leaders do nothing about it.They’re a cult, or have a cultic reputation. Too legalistic, demanding, judgmental. If you don’t obey/conform, they have penalties.They’re dark Christians: Too much fear and worry, not enough love.You, or they, are moving to a new city. Or you work for another church.Your spouse goes elsewhere, and isn’t coming back. Period.You consider church to be optional anyway. Sleep, sports, or recreation—even doing nothing—seem better options.They’re not cool enough. Or anymore.You don’t like anyone there. You have no friends there. You burned a lot of…

When pagans believe they’re Christian.

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’Cause they like Jesus. So doesn’t that make ’em Christian?In the United States, roughly seven out of 10 people believe they’re Christian. I live in California, where it’s six out of 10. (I’m not just pulling these numbers out of my bum; the national stats and state stats from a 2014 Pew Forum study.)Which matches my experience. When I share Jesus with strangers, about two out of three tell me they’re Christian already. They don’t necessarily go to church; that’s another issue. But they do figure they’re Christian. For all sorts of reasons:Actual individual experience with Jesus.Said the sinner’s prayer once.They’re a regular at their church. (How regular varies. Twice a year, they figure, counts.)Got baptized.Raised Christian, or their family’s Christian.They consider themselves spiritual. And when they contemplate spiritual matters, Jesus is in the mix somewhere.Now, let’s explode that last definition: They’re “spiritual,” by which they nearly always mean they believe in the superna…

Denominations: When churches network.

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DENOMINATIONdi.nɑm.ə'neɪ.ʃənnoun. Organized network of affiliated churches.2. Autonomous branch of a religion.[Denominational də.nɑm.ə'neɪ.ʃən.əladjective.]When Jesus began his church, it had a really basic organization: The Twelve, the apostles whom he hand-picked to lead his followers… and his followers.Over time this evolved. As it kinda had to, ’cause the church spread. The Twelve didn’t stay in Jerusalem: Simon Peter went to Rome, Andrew to Greece, John to Ephesus, Jude and Simon to Syria, Bartholemew to Armenia, Thomas to India, and so forth. The followers spread out to different cities in the Roman Empire, and to the barbarians outside the Empire. They founded new groups.All sorts of questions began to crop up about how connected these groups were with one another. Of course since power is always a stumbling-block for us humans, there was also concern about what authority various apostles and bishops in other groups had over the new congregations and their leadership.Th…

The baptism of Jesus. And adoption. And anointing.

If Jesus didn’t need to repent, why’d he undergo John’s baptism?Mark 1.9-11 • Matthew 3.13-17 • Luke 3.21-22 • John 1.29-34Mark 1.9 KWLIt happened in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of the Galilee,and was baptized by John in the Jordan.Matthew 3.13-15 KWL13 Then Jesus came from the Galilee to the Jordan, to John, to be baptized by him.14 John was preventing him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you! And you come to me?”15 In reply Jesus told him, “Just permit it. It’s appropriate for us to fulfill everything that’s right.”So John permitted him.
Okay: Baptism, i.e. ritual washing, was usually for Jews who were ritually unclean: They’d touched an animal they weren’t allowed to eat, anything they found dead, an open wound; they’d expelled bodily fluids of one sort or another; in general they needed to wash themselves and their clothes before they went to temple. John the baptist co-opted the ritual and used it on sinners who wanted to repent and get morally clean. Same practice, new …

Wanna become a prophet?

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Like prayer, prophecy isn’t complicated. It’s just our doubts—and our own voices—get in the way. There are two misconceptions about the word “prophet.” One’s a minor problem; the other’s huge. Small problem first: What a prophet actually is.Loads of people assume prophets are the same thing as prognosticators: People who know the future, or who can predict it really well. Pagans think this, which is why they treat prophecy like psychic phenomena. And cessationists think this: “Prophecy,” to them, is all about being able to interpret the End Times. It’s why all their “prophecy conferences” consist of End Times goofiness instead of actual prophets talking shop.True, God talks about the future quite a lot. Be fair; so do we all. “That’s on my schedule for tomorrow,” or “I’ll do that in the morning,” or “Can’t wait till Saturday.” Like us, God either talks about what he’s gonna do in the near future, or the soon-coming consequences of poor choices: “Stop doing that; you’ll go blind.” Sinc…

Patriarchy: When fathers ruled the earth.

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The system of government we find in Genesis—which some try inflicting on their own families.Patriarchy. /'peɪ.tri.ɑrk.i/ n. System of government where the father, or eldest male, is ruler.2. System wherein women are largely excluded from positions of authority.[Patriarchal /'peɪ.tri.ɑr.kəl/ adj.]When people talk about patriarchy nowadays, they tend to mean the second definition above: Women can’t seem to find their way into any official or significant positions of leadership. They can have unofficial power, like a First Lady; they can have insignificant power, like being in charge of cleaning the break room. (Gee, what an honor.) But never any serious authority; the “old boys’ network” keeps shutting them out.Because the “old boys” don’t wanna work with women. Especially don’t wanna work for women. Doesn’t matter the reasons; they’re all different forms of sexism. It’s a way-too-common problem in the present day. But actually sexism isn’t what this article is about. (Not prima…

Love and romance.

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Is romance appropriate for Christians? Within the appropriate context, absolutely.I’m posting this article on Valentine’s Day, the day named for several ancient martyrs named Valentine: Bishop Valentinus of Terni, Presbyter Valentinus of Rome, Valentinus of Raetia, Valentinus of Genoa, Valentinus the hermit, and Valentinus of North Africa. All their stories and myths got frapped together… and nobody cares about ’em anyway, ’cause Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday. It’s meant to get people to buy stuff, or make various other expensive materialistic declarations of love, for the person they’re currently boning.By “love” I mean one of the eight definitions of love. On Valentine’s Day, among Christians who know charity is the ideal sort of love the scriptures point to, there might be some expressions of that: They love their partners with godly love. They want the best for their loved ones, even if that means sacrificing themselves. They expect nothing in return; it’s not a love whi…

John the baptist’s message for everyone else.

Someone greater than John was coming, and he was just paving the way.Mark 1.7-8 • Matthew 3.11-12 • Luke 3.10-20 • John 1.24-28Last time I dealt with what John the baptist had to say to religious folks—people who already followed God, or at least were active in temple and synagogue. John didn’t come to preach to them; they already had prophets, and shouldn’t need to come to John and repent. He came to reach the people who had no relationship with God, who needed to get ready for their coming Messiah.But you might notice Luke describes John’s message to the religious folks as being directed towards everyone. Religious and irreligious alike.Luke 3.7-14 KWL7John said this to the crowds coming to be baptized by him:“You viper-spawn! Who warned you to escape the wrath of God?8Fine then: Produce worthy fruits, from repentant people.Don’t start to tell yourselves, ‘We have a father in Abraham’:From these rocks, I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham.9 Plus, the axe lays at the roo…

The Nicene Creed.

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Orthodox Christianity, in a nutshell.I believe in one God, the Father, the almighty,maker of heaven and earth, of all things, visible and invisible.I believe in one Lord, Christ Jesus,the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages.God from God, light from light, true God from true God,begotten not made, of one being with the Father.Through him all things were made.For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven;by the Holy Spirit was incarnate from the virgin Mary. He was made man.For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and was buried.On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures.He ascended into heaven. He’s seated at the right hand of the Father.He’ll come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.His kingdom will have no end.I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.He proceeds from the Father [and the Son].He, with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified.He’s spoken through t…

Really don’t wanna go to church.

Sick and tired of church? It happens for good reasons. And pathetic ones.Though we Christians need to go to church, many of us don’t. And won’t.And I get it. There’ve been times in my life when I didn’t wanna go to church either. So I found excuses not to, adopted them, and didn’t go.“I have a home church, and I’m too far from home to go.” I used this for a semester while I was in college: I didn’t care for any of the churches in the area, and figured I did have a church back home; I did go there when I was home. But I wasn’t home. So it was okay if I missed 10 weeks of church services.“I go to chapel every day, so that kinda counts.” This was my other excuse that semester. Me and a lot of other students.“I can do all this stuff on my own.” My excuse for a few weeks when I was really annoyed with the people of my church. ’Cause I totally could do this stuff on my own. Pray?—no problem. Sing worship songs?—easily done. Learn from fellow Christians?—I had their books. Study the bible?—s…

John the baptist’s message for the religious.

Didn’t sound too pleased with them.Matthew 3.7-10 • Luke 3.7-9 • John 1.19-23In Matthew and Luke’s parallel stories, John the baptist comes across a bit hostile towards the religious folks who come to check him out.Matthew 3.7-10 KWL7 Seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, John told them,“You viper-spawn! Who warned you to escape the wrath of God?8Fine then: Produce worthy fruit, from repentant people.9 Don’t presume to tell yourselves, ‘We have a father in Abraham’:From these rocks, I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham.10 The axe lays at the root of the tree right now.So every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and thrown into fire.”Luke 3.7-9 KWL7John said this to the crowds coming to be baptized by him:“You viper-spawn! Who warned you to escape the wrath of God?8Fine then: Produce worthy fruits, from repentant people.Don’t start to tell yourselves, ‘We have a father in Abraham’:From these rocks, I tell you, God can raise up children fo…

What, you thought there were only 10 commandments?

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God’s 613 commands, and how Christians treat them.Most Christians are familiar with the fact there are 10 commandments. Ex 20.1-17 Not so familiar with the actual 10 commands, but we do tend to know there are 10 of them, and it wouldn’t hurt to live by them. In fact the politically-minded among us think it’d be a good idea for the whole of the United States to live by them… although it’s a bit of a puzzler how we might simultaneously enforce “You’ll have no other gods before me” Ex 20.3and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Amendment 1Some of us have also heard the idea there are 12 commandments. Where’d the extra two come from? Well, someone once asked Jesus his opinion on the greatest command. Mark 12.28-31 KWL28 One of the scribes was standing there listening to the discussion.Recognizing how well Jesus answered the Sadducees, he asked him,“Which command is first of all?” 29 Jesus gave this answer:“First is, ‘Listen Israel: Our god is the Lord. T…

Judge not. Or judge. Depends on the context.

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Matthew 7.1-5.People, Christians and pagans alike, fling around the following Jesus quote a lot.Matthew 7.1 KJVJudge not, that ye be not judged.Usually for one of two reasons. Both incorrect, though sometimes with the best of intentions.Be kind to other people. When they offend you personally—when they’re clumsy or awkward, boorish or rude, look and smell and dress funny, have horrible taste in music and movies and comedy, or even sin in ways which really bug you—remember God still loves them, and so should we. Besides, it’s not like we don’t sin either. Or have our own offensive flaws.Hey, don’t you judge me. “Judge not,” right?Since kindness is a fruit of the Spirit it makes sense to remind people to be kind and compassionate towards the weird or the sinful. Jesus didn’t drive such people away; he ministered to them and befriended them. Thing is, he didn’t just tolerate them: He forgave them. And forgiveness means they did do something wrong; otherwise there’d be nothing to forgive.…